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Does Northwestern football have a legitimate home-field advantage?

Evanston has no shortage of nerds, so maybe it does like the quiet.

Griffin Quinn/Northwestern Athletics

For a team without a win in its own country all of last season, Northwestern now has not one, but two home wins to its name in 2023.

Statistics indicate a team that’s played better at Ryan Field: the Wildcats have amassed over 600 pass yards at home, compared to 352 at Rutgers and Duke, not to mention the recent 21 points the team scored in the fourth quarter versus Minnesota to send the game to overtime. There have also been 10 touchdowns at home versus three on the road, three interceptions versus none... I could name even more.

Based on pure numbers, it’s clear that Northwestern has done significantly better at home this season. What’s led to these numbers is an absolute mystery, but I have some theories.

1. Other teams are intimidated by quietude

For anyone who’s been to Ryan Field, the atmosphere has a serenity that no other Big Ten stadium can boast. Out of the 47,000 seats, not even half are usually filled on game day; this throws off opponents like Minnesota, who are used to a high decibel level and a crowd that would set records in Evanston. Teams have to prep for this kind of unique atmosphere. Take Penn State, for example:

The extra effort is evident. If there’s anything that this tweet tells us, it’s that Penn State is worried. The Nittany Lions are worried about the energy that Ryan Field is going to have —and that could mess with their heads just enough for them to lose.

2. Northwestern THRIVES on the energy from the loyal few

One commonality between Northwestern’s UTEP win and the victory against Minnesota Saturday was this: the Wildcats were most alive when the students were few and far between. This team must be humble: too shy to perform to its best in front of a crowd, and is one that needs the attention of only the most die-hard fanatics to succeed. And, the Wildcat’s fanbase is filled with insane fans that will break stadium rules and run onto the field after wins. I mean, how many teams besides Colorado and Duke have you seen storm the field?

That’s exactly what this team needs. Northwestern’s fans cause just the type of tomfoolery that throws other teams off — the thundering echo of the footsteps of field-storming Wildcats follow opponents on their way out.

3. Ryan Field is an absolute fortress

Ryan Field opened in 1926. For those of you that are math-averse like I am, that makes it 97 years old. Aesthetically, there hasn’t been anything like it since the castles of the 12th century: the stadium even has its own knights (Northwestern security) guarding the stronghold (a grass field). The concrete walls greet teams on entry, immediately striking fear. The wit of Northwestern students continues this culture as the game goes on, with the academic elite sometimes hurling insults impossible for other teams to understand.

This confuses opponents, distracting from the football game that’s unfolding while also hurting their feelings. Ryan Field’s castle-like qualities are where this intimidation game starts.